The Cham Towers of Thap Doi

On the way back to Quy Nhon town from Banh It, we stopped off a second Cham temple complex, this one located in a tidy, green park within the city of Quy Nhon itself. The so-called ‘twin towers’ of Thap Doi do not have the glorious location of Banh It, being located on low-lying land about three kilometres from downtown Quy Nhon, but the architecture is impressive enough in its own right to justify a visit here. The garden parkland setting with its lush lawns, palm trees and tropical shrubs also adds considerably to the appeal.

These twin towers are unusual in that Cham towers are not normally found together in even numbers. They are also odd in how close they are to each other: for such sizable brick monuments (they two towers are each around 20 metres tall) they appear to be sitting right on top of each other. The other unusual thing about these Cham towers is their roofs. Unlike the terraced or tiered roofs which are normally associated with Cham towers, these ones have a steeply sloping pyramidal roof.

Thap Doi
Thap Doi towers, in their parkland setting

These roofs are mostly made of red brick but traces of pale, white sandstone are also visible. This stone was used for ornamental decorations on the roof. The most impressive of these are the garudasa kind of Hindu mythological bird, which was the vehicle of the god Vishnu. The garudas are mostly located on the corners of the roof, and the birds appear to be peering down at visitors to the temple. With their exaggerated beaks and powerful , they are easily the most captivating sculptural detail, and yet more proof of the outstanding artistic talents of the ancient Cham. The outside of the temple also features stylized columns, a false door and embossed lines in the brickwork. The main entrance to the temples is also notable for its large, pointed arch over the entrance, which is a common feature of Cham towers.

The interior of the towers is not as interesting as the outside. However, one of the them has a linga and a yoni, the representation of the phallus and the womb in the Hindu religion. The linga is also a symbol of the god Shiva, whose cult was extremely widespread and powerful in the classical period of South-East Asian archaeology. In our travels we had encountered lingas within the cella of temple everywhere from Central Java to Angkor in Cambodia. A god with a warlike aspect, his cult seemed to grow in importance in South-East Asia as war and competition between various kingdoms intensified.

While Thap Doi was not as enervating an experience as Banh It, with its hilltop setting and sense of isolation, it is still a well-preserved and unusual site. It is also one of the easiest Cham towers of Vietnam to reach, being located within a modern city. It is worth checking out before heading out to the one of the beaches for which Binh Dinh is probably best known among travelers.



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